Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.
In the pre-dawn hours of a June morning last year, I clicked on the button that officially signed me up for a 12-hour ultra race. 12 hours of running. That’s a whole lot of time on my feet, even longer than some of my craziest days working at a busy veterinary hospital. I felt a little panicked and queasy – even though I had formally signed up, I wasn’t at all certain I knew how I was going to tackle this thing.
Without planning for it, 2014 became a year for me to take on some new challenges. Some of those were more overtly gutsy, and some posed a challenge on a more personal level. I didn’t exactly set out to have a year like this, but as the months progressed I was drawn to new opportunities to push myself.
The most dramatic challenge I took on in the past year was training for and running that 12-hour trail race, called the “Sloppy Cuckoo.” I had already run a number of marathons and two 50k ultras, and wanted to try to push myself even further. The daily training was not significantly different than what I did during my peak training for the marathon, though some of the super long runs or back-to-back high mileage days were a new challenge. But mentally it felt like an entirely new ballgame. 12 hours out there? How would I handle all that time on my feet? Would my body hold up? What would I want to eat? How could I deal with the enormity of it?
The Sloppy Cuckoo race was divided into loops – each loop was 6.55 miles and you had 12 hours to finish as many of those loops as you were able to. Because the race was held in late September and ended at 7:30pm, your final loop could be in the dark if you stayed out on the course long enough. As far as race awards went, only full laps were counted. But for those who wanted to finish a specific distance such as 40 or 50 miles, you could complete a loop, then run out to a pre-marked location and back to the start to reach the desired mileage.
From the moment I signed up, I always had 50 miles as a goal. This meant 7 complete loops and then a little over 4 miles out and back on the course to complete the distance. This race may have been a test of endurance, but it was truly a lesson in mindfulness. I would have to stay focused on each moment as it came to me that day. There is no way to take on something that lengthy by thinking about the entirety of it – I would need to take it piece by piece, minute by minute, especially as the day wore on and fatigue set in.
Aside from a little quad and hip flexor pain, physically I felt pretty good all day. But on the second lap, less than 2 hours into the race, I had a moment of getting totally overwhelmed by how much was still ahead of me. Even that fleeting worry threatened to paralyze me. But along with my physical preparation I had done some mental preparation too – I knew there would be ups and downs in this race (potentially many of both), and I also knew I had to trust in the simple, methodical act of placing one foot in front of the other.
That was it.
Don’t focus on what I’ll feel like 5 minutes or an hour from now. Stay in the moment. Focus on staying upright and not tripping on the roots and banging up both my body and ego. I had to stick with the simplicity of taking each moment as it came.
And I did it – I pushed through that moment of doubt and kept moving forward for nearly 10 more hours, and when it was finally over the enormity of it all washed over me.
But the race itself really isn’t the point here. Though it was an intense experience and an incredible challenge, I think I have finally gained some clarity on its lessons over the last several months.
Being gutsy and tackling new things is certainly about big, scary goals and changes and accomplishments. But being gutsy is just as much about the consistent, day-to-day stuff. What can you take on each day that gets you a little bit closer to that big goal? Is it getting out the door to run? Is it making a better food choice? Is it sitting down to write, or starting a blog and putting yourself out there for the world to see?
Aside from running, I also started to work toward some other goals in 2014. While the 12-hour race was probably my most visible accomplishment, I started making some other changes that were more subtle but mentally required even more gutsiness. One of the scariest things for me was the acknowledgement and verbalization of the fact that I wanted to make some changes in what I do for work. For the last 11 years I have worked at a veterinary hospital full time while also having a small side business tutoring students. But my days were starting to feel challenging in the wrong ways and even though I was comfortable and successful in my job, I finally let myself acknowledge that it might be time to make some changes.
I’m a cautious planer by nature and hardly the type of person who would abandon my job all at once to find something new. But I needed to pursue some different challenges to feel fulfilled again. Comfort in my current job had become more about acceptance and complacency and it was time to push myself.
Getting back to writing has been a personal goal that I decided to make a priority in 2015. What that means in the big picture I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I’m willing to let that question mark hang in the air for a bit while I enjoy the exploration process and figure it out.
What making a commitment to writing DOES mean is that I am putting it into my schedule every day, and finding new ways to challenge myself with it. Starting a blog last year was the beginning of this journey. Committing to writing every day in 2015 is the continuation. Finding ways to explore this love and fulfill myself on a more creative level will be the future of this commitment. And even though it’s not glamorous or earth shattering in its current state, it’s the perseverance that pays off. One foot in front of the other. Push myself and find the gutsiness to write each and every day. Tackle the goals of the New Year one day, one moment at a time. Like the miles accumulating in that 12-hour race, over time the minutes and hours add up to something that might become more spectacular or beautiful or life changing. And that is undeniably gutsy.